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Super stocks KENNETH l FISHER


SUPER
STOCKS


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SUPER
STOCKS
Reissued Edition

KENNETH L. FISHER

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Copyright © 1984 by Kenneth L. Fisher. Copyright © 2008 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All
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DOI: 10.1036/0071499814


To my Mother and Father, who in so many
ways stimulated the events which made
this book possible.
Thanks.


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CONTENTS

Preface xi
Acknowledgments—How This Book Came to Pass

xv

PART ONE

THE ANATOMY OF A SUPER STOCK
Chapter 1

Get Rich with the “Glitch”

3

Analyzing Super Stocks—In Search of “The Perfect Glitch”
Chapter 2

What Makes the Glitch Twitch?

17

Tough Times Separate the Men from the Boys: A Warning First. They’ll
Bitch at the Glitch. “Success Has a Thousand Fathers, but Failure Is a
Bastard.” Some Companies Make It—Some Don’t.
PART TWO

VALUATION ANALYSIS
Chapter 3

Conventional Approaches to Stock Valuation—The Riddle:
Ten Times Earning’s Is too High and a Thousand Times Is
Too Low 31
The Problem: If Left Field and Right Field Don’t Work, Get Out of the
Stadium. Earnings-Based Methods: The “Underpriced, Low P/E” School.
The Growth Stock School of Thought. The Ben Graham Approach—
”Remarkable but Not Enough.” The Solution.

vii


Contents

viii

Chapter 4

Pricing Is Everything—Use Price Sales Ratios 39
Bulls, Bears, and Turkeys. Understanding Price Sales Ratios (PSRs). What
Does the Relationship between Price and Sales Mean? A Case in Point:
The Datapoint. A Super Stock Is a Super Company Bought at a Low PSR
Relative to the Company’s Size. What Is a Low PSR, What Is a High PSR,
and Why? Studying the Solution. Getting the Right Slant on Stocks.
Swimming Upstream as You Grow. A Fear of Heights. The Threshold of
Never-Never Land. The Economics of Going Public.
Chapter 5

Price Research Ratios—The Cost of a Good Set of Brains 61
The Problem—Landing a Whale. What is the Price Research Ratio?
Research Is Just a Commodity. Market Research Wags Technical
Research: The Solution. Rules for Using PRRs. Problems with PRRs.
Chapter 6

Applying Price Sales Ratios to Nonsuper Stocks

75

PSRs, the Broader Concept. Lessons of the Past—PSRs in the Bull Market of
the 1960s and Early 1970s. PSRs and the Great American Smokestack Stock.
Use PSRs as THE Stock Market Timing Device. Fisher’s Rules for Timing
the Stock Market. PSRs in the “Garbage Dump” of the Stock Market.
Chapter 7

Fortunes from Failures—The Myth of the 1930s 95
Through the Time Warp. IBM Not a Growth Stock? Spectacular Profits
with Low-PSR Stocks. What about All Those Great Companies?
PART THREE

FUNDAMENTAL ANALYSIS
Chapter 8

Super Companies: The Business Aspects—
Stalking Excellence 109
Basic Business Traits. Growth Orientation. Marketing Excellence:
Quanta-Ray: “Underpromise; Overperform”—Customers Are the Best
Salesmen. Is Management in Control of Marketing? How Are Sales and Service


Contents

ix

Handled? Find the Unfair Advantage: Does the Customer Get the “Best Bang
for the Buck”? Labor Relations Are Critical. Financial Controls—Question
the Answers.
Chapter 9

Avoid Risk—Avoid Competition 127
David and the Anteaters. Avoid the Places Anteaters Hang Out. The
Japanese Zap Large Markets—Sometimes. Small (and Different) Is Beautiful.
Remember Your Teddy Roosevelt—Walk Softly but Carry a Strong Balance
Sheet. Who Stands behind the Financials? Who Has Controlling Interest?
Chapter 10

Margin Analysis—All I Really Want in Life Is an
Unfair Advantage 135
The Problem. Some Definitions. Look for Clues from the Past: Who
Kicked the Sleeping Dog? When in Doubt, Ask! From Rags to Riches.
Something Rather Unique Must Be Done. All I Really Want in Life Is
an Unfair Advantage: High Market Share Can Be an Unfair Advantage.
Relative Market Share Is More Powerful Still.
Chapter 11

Margin Analysis Continued—Formulas and Rules 149
A Forecasting Formula for Margin Analysis: Some Examples. Rules for
Margin Analysis. No One Is Perfect—You Don’t Have to Be.
PART FOUR

DYNAMICS
Chapter 12

Into Action—There’s Method to the Madness 159
Where Is the Magic Key? Opportunities Are Seldom Labeled: Scan
for Low PSRs. Scan for Money-Losing Companies. Scan for Qualitative
Assessments of Superior Companies. The Best Research Facilities Cost
Nothing to Use. Take an Important Side Step in Time. The Key to
Esoteric and Little-Known Publications. Avoid Competition from
Wall Street. Visit the Company: Getting Your Foot in the Door. Contact
Customers, Competitors, Suppliers, and Investment Professionals. It’s
Time to Reach a Conclusion.


Contents

x

Chapter 13

Bringing It All Back Home—When to Sell 179
When Is the Bloom off the Rose? Beware of Heights: There Is Nothing Like
a Good Long Ride. After You’ve Sold, You’ve Reached the End of the Line.
Chapter 14

Verbatim Corporation—Disco Baby 183
Early History: The President Is Gone. A Competitor by Comparison.
The Stock and the PSR: Taking the Plunge. The Competitive Nappers
Wake Up. Smiling All the Way to the Bank.
Chapter 15

California Microwave—Ride the Wave 209
Early History. This Company Was Worth Further Investigation.
Oops! The Other Shoe Drops. Taking the Plunge. Riding the Wave.
New Blood. Everybody Loves a Happy Ending.
Appendixes

Appendix 1
Appendix 2
Appendix 3
Appendix 4
Appendix 5
Appendix 6
Index

263

235
239
241
245
249
253


PREFACE

This book contains powerful new ideas—coupled with variations
on some old ones. Over the years they have given me tremendous
faith in the investment path I follow. With them you too may
develop greater faith in your investment path. Faith is a tremendous power because, among other things, it allows you to act when
others are frozen. It is essential to investment success.
Most investment books rehash the same old stuff. Why is this
book different from the rest?

THIS BOOK OFFERS CONCEPTS NEVER
BEFORE PRESENTED
Among these concepts are easily implemented yet sophisticated
and powerful new methods for valuing stocks. They will help you
avoid investment mistakes and seek opportunities for spectacular
profits. They are tailored for the professional or interested (even if
relatively inexperienced) amateur. These new methods are demonstrated within the context of their use in the pursuit of “Super
Stocks.” A Super Stock is defined to be both:
A stock which increases 3 to 10 times in value in three to five
years from its initial purchase.
The stock of a Super Company bought at a price appropriate
to an inferior company.
A Super Stock generates long-term rates of return between 25
and 100 percent per year. Few stocks perform this well for long.
Those that do have certain traits in common. This book covers
those traits and how to identify them. To invest in Super Stocks
successfully, you need to understand four distinct subjects:
A phenomenon I call the “glitch.”
New and powerful (yet easily used) methods to determine
how much to pay for a stock.

xi
Copyright © 1984 by Kenneth L. Fisher. Copyright © 2008 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Click here for terms of use.


Preface

xii

What distinguishes a Super Company from more common
businesses.
A process of “dynamics” that allows you to identify and act
on these opportunities in the day-to-day world.
Anyone can sidestep pitfalls that regularly befoul most professional investors. Avoiding mistakes is just a start. By learning a few
principles, you will understand the steps to a staircase of investment
success. These principles provide a simple discipline enabling you
to outperform most professionals. They can provide professionals a
rigorous basis upon which to operate.
Can it really be done? Is it hard? Successful implementation
does not require exceptional intelligence or access to inside tips.
Anyone can employ these principles successfully at least on a limited scale. Is it worth it?
Consider the results. In early 1981, I purchased for my
clients and myself approximately 1.5 percent of the total common
shares of Verbatim Corporation, a producer of flexible diskettes
used in small computer systems. At the time, virtually everyone I
could find on Wall Street thought I had absolutely lost my mind. If
one were to invest in diskettes, they all said, invest in Dysan
Corporation. Dysan was supposed to have the best technology and
management.
The word was Verbatim had bad management, bad technology,
and bad products. The popular consensus held it was financially
unstable and had a very hard road to hoe ahead of it. Some even
implied it might not survive.
Two years later Verbatim stock was up over 15 times my
original cost. Verbatim became popular, at higher prices, with
everyone from Value Line to many major brokerage firms and
banks.
What happened to make Verbatim—of whom so many
thought so little—increase in value so much?1 Providing the answer
is exactly what this book is about—how to recognize a Super Stock
that is currently perceived by Wall Street as a real turkey.

1

See the full case history of Verbatim in Chapter 14.


Preface

xiii

WHY BOTHER TO SHARE THESE CONCEPTS
WITH YOU?
It takes a lot of effort to write a book. Before embarking on this
project, I pondered considerably. I reviewed a number of the books
on my shelf. My own thoughts were stated perfectly in the words of
an author wiser than I. It was in the preface to Common Stocks and
Uncommon Profits (Harper & Row, 1958):
Over the years I have found myself explaining in great detail to the owners of
the funds I manage principles behind one or another action I have taken. Only
in this way would they have enough understanding of why I was acquiring
some, to them, totally unknown security so that there would be no impulse to
dispose of it before enough time had elapsed for the purchase to begin justifying
itself in market quotations.
Gradually the desire arose to compile these investment principles
and have a printed record to which I could point. This resulted in the first
groping toward organizing this book. Then I began thinking of the many
people, most of them owners of smaller funds than those belonging to the
handful of individuals it is my business to serve, who have come to me over
the years and asked how they as small investors could get started off on
the right path.
I thought of the difficulties of the army of small investors who have
unintentionally picked up all sorts of ideas and investment notions that can
prove expensive over a period of years, possibly because they have never been
exposed to the challenge of more fundamental concepts. Finally I thought of
the many discussions I have had with another group also vitally interested
in these matters, although from a different standpoint. These are the corporate presidents, financial vice presidents, and treasurers of publicly owned
companies, many of whom show a deep interest in learning as much as
possible about these matters.
I concluded there was a need for a book of this sort. I decided such a
book would have an informal presentation in which I would try to address
you, the reader, in the first person. I would use much the same language and
many of the same examples and analogies that I have employed in presenting the same concepts to those whose funds I manage. I hope my frankness,
at times my bluntness, will not cause offense. I particularly hope that you
will conclude the merit of the ideas I present may outweigh my defects as
a writer.

I couldn’t say it any better myself.
Kenneth L. Fisher


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A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S—
HOW THIS BOOK CAME TO PASS

This book made me appreciate the hackneyed but correct saying,
“Books aren’t written; they are rewritten.” The creation of personal
computers allowed many more rewrites than my short fuse otherwise could have tolerated. As the drafts rolled on, a lot of folks
made significant contributions.
Jim Michaels, editor of Forbes, provided a spark resulting in
Chapters 6 and 7. I think of those chapters as his. Jim had read earlier drafts when we met for lunch in Manhattan. He suggested my
pricing concepts would be more compelling if I could demonstrate
their validity on a broader universe than I had covered to that
point. Jim suggested going way back in time and also covering
different types of stocks. “Could you do it?” he asked. “Would I do
it?” was the real question. It would be theoretically simple—a great
idea—but what a lot of work.
Fortunately, great sparks can provide their own momentum at
times. Jeff Silk, who works with me, was eager and able to devote
much of the next three months to the project. I feel the results are
among Super Stocks highlights, and I am deeply indebted to Jim for
the idea and to Jeff for his effort. Jeff is one of those bright young
people whose talents I can use only because he is too young for the
world yet to have offered him his real opportunities.
Significant statistical assistance also came from Tom Ulrich, a
former Fisher Investments employee who has gone on to bigger
and better things. Tom provided much of the number crunching
behind Chapters 3 and 4.
Early on, Jack McDonald, of the Stanford Graduate School of
Business, counseled me in ways that took out much of the glib side
of my writing. He made me see the degree to which this could be a
serious book. His inspiration shows most heavily in Chapters 8
through 11.
Stanley Kroll helped ease my early strident criticisms of the
investment community with less-emotional conclusions. John
Train, of Train, Smith Counsel, an outstanding writer and successful investment pro, offered direction in seeking a publisher and in
xv
Copyright © 1984 by Kenneth L. Fisher. Copyright © 2008 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Click here for terms of use.


xvi

Acknowledgments—How This Book Came to Pass

giving me a basic lesson in writing by introducing me to Strunk and
White’s The Elements of Style, which should be required reading for
all prospective writers.
Also early on, Harriet Rubin at Harper & Row rejected the concept of the book for her company’s use but shared meaningful criticisms in terms of structure and form which were incorporated in
the first full draft. I regret that the benefit flowed only one way. Dr.
Frank Bruni proofread my preliminary first chapter (later dropped).
In the process, Frank showed me how very far I had yet to go,
thereby injecting my first sense of realism into this project. Tony
Spare of the Bank of California encouraged me to focus the level of
technical jargon toward whom it was I wanted the audience to be.
My father, Phil Fisher, has always been my harshest critic and
staunchest supporter. Knowing me longer than anyone, and being
both an eminently successful investor and writer, he was uniquely
qualified to critique my work. His great patience, reading poorly
conceived and written early scribblings of what was to later become
this book, allowed for a great flow of comments. He pulled no
punches in showing me why he felt certain parts needed improvement.
Sam Aronson, Al Haft, and Monte Stern took great pains to
read the manuscript from an investor’s standpoint. Struggling with
each paragraph, they showed me the areas that struck a positive
chord and others that put them to sleep at night.
Others, including Dr. Ronald Bean, Bill Gorman, and Bob
McAllen, contributed the same level of effort on some portion of the
manuscript. Gorman’s comments, along with Harriet Rubin’s,
helped me restructure the first portion of the book. McAllen urged
me to keep going when I felt discouraged by the initial responses to
Chapters 3 and 4. Ron Bean encouraged me to seek editorial assistance, indicating I had something that needed to be said—but said
better. This led me to Barbara Noble.
Knowing I needed help, my wife, Sherri, began searching for
someone with editing experience. Things began to happen quickly
when she introduced me to Barbara Noble. Not only did Barbara
provide two complete passes as an ad hoc editor, she also taught me
to write to the extent I am able. At first she wanted to oversee and
edit everything I wrote, knowing that I needed it. Then, as she built
my facilities like a mother bird pushing her baby from the nest,


Acknowledgments—How This Book Came to Pass

xvii

Barbara declined to work where she was sure I could push myself
to handle things on my own. It is a great way to learn. To the extent
Super Stocks is readable, it is largely due to her effort. Her enthusiasm and patience were unending. I am indebted.
Likewise, without Janet Thurston, it would never have
happened. Janet is my right hand at Fisher Investments as chief operating officer. When I want something done, whatever it is, I turn to
her, knowing she is one of the few people in life where I never have
to worry about the outcome. She does it right the first time. She proofread. She oversaw the production of the manuscript and took more
and more of the load off my back whenever I started to stumble.
As the manuscript approached completion, I needed reviewers with fresh insights who weren’t swayed by their own prior readings. At this point many of the same people read parts they had not
seen before. Others saw my material for the first time. Annie Brody,
Ken Koskella (who also introduced me to Annie through Roberta
Sheldon), Jack Euphrat, Wally Hagglund, Jim Palmer, Henry
Roberts, Steve Walske, and others too numerous to list here
provided fresh comments, reinforcement, and final fine tuning
prior to pouring the concrete.
Others contributed at various stages in other ways. Fred Krup,
for instance, who owns The Book Store in San Mateo and whom I’ve
known since I was a child, took the time to show me how a book like
this could fit into the world of the retail book store. Fred and Dick
Newhouse introduced me to book sellers like Bruce Degarmeaux,
Jack O’Leary, and Tom Turbin, who were generous with their time.
Tom Faherty was particularly helpful in showing me where Super
Stocks could fit into the publisher’s world.
With an offer in hand, Annie Brody began negotiating the contract as my agent, doing a creditable job while holding my hand via
long distance. I had been talking with Annie, along with other
agents, for some time while considering how to locate a publisher.
But Annie did more. Her comments led me to delete certain parts of
the manuscript, better forgotten. Jeff Shurtleff of Central Park Books
let us use his shelves for test photographing several design ideas for
the cover.
Special appreciation is due the publisher for allowing me to
add Appendix Six at the last minute. Its far reaching implications,
by itself, may be as significant as anything else in this book.


xviii

Acknowledgments—How This Book Came to Pass

Time and space do not allow me to mention everyone who
helped along the way. I apologize to those not mentioned through
lack of space or oversight. I cannot escape without one additional
set of thanks.
While many authors use the acknowledgment section to pay
homage to their family, in my case there is a more fundamental
reason for the debt. My wife, Sherri, made a very real effort to the
book. Not only did she pull a major coup by locating Barbara
Noble, mentioned above, but she also spent a good deal of time
facilitating for me, both on her own and with Janet Thurston. She
set aside her art career, spending endless time working on things
like the tractor feed and printer, photocopying the early drafts, and
playing the part of gofer to help keep things running smoothly. It
was about the only chance she had to see me for much of 1983.
Likewise, I owe a year to my three sons, Clayton, Nathan, and Jess,
who good-naturedly put up with a lack of “dad” on evenings,
weekends, and holidays, while I was glued to the computer in the
laundry room with the door shut.
To all of you, thanks for helping me say my piece and giving
me an experience which I won’t need to repeat but which I never
want to forget.
K. L. F.


PART ONE

The Anatomy of a Super Stock

Copyright © 1984 by Kenneth L. Fisher. Copyright © 2008 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Click here for terms of use.


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CHAPTER 1

Get Rich with the “Glitch”

ANALYZING SUPER STOCKS—IN SEARCH OF
“THE PERFECT GLITCH”
The most profitable common stock investments come in the form of
young, rapidly growing companies that are currently out of favor
with Wall Street. The stock becomes worth more because the
company becomes bigger and the financial community finally
comes to appreciate its true value and, along the way, bids up
its price.
Young, rapidly growing companies usually grow in cycles.
These cycles are tied to a number of causes. The most important is
the “product life cycle.” Usually young and unseasoned, the
managements of these companies can make severe mistakes, which
can cause losses and may even threaten the survival of the firm.
The best young companies learn from their mistakes. They evolve
from there to a better future.
Making mistakes is less a sign of weakness than a sign of evolution. Few companies grow at rapid rates year after year without
suffering some irregularity or “glitch” resulting in unfavorable
earnings or even losses. Time and time again, a company will be
highly revered by the financial community. It will be vividly
described by almost everyone as having a rosy future that deserves
a high valuation. They may say it has a “better than great—a superb
management. It’s going to gain market share. It’s going to get
into new markets with existing technology. It’s developing new
technologies that will open up whole new horizons.”
There is a yearly crop of these companies in Silicon Valley. The
specific names change slightly over time. These are THE companies
people think of as “growth companies.” They may be large or
small. At the large end, Hewlett-Packard has been one for decades.
At the small end are companies like Seagate, Masstor, the very tiny
Collagen, and the like. There is more than a shred of truth to the
myths that develop about them. There may be a few “flies” on
3
Copyright © 1984 by Kenneth L. Fisher. Copyright © 2008 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Click here for terms of use.


4

PART 1

The Anatomy of a Super Stock

some of them that people don’t see. When the flies are finally found,
the stocks suffer. They may drop so severely that it takes months or
even years to recover fully to their prior levels.
Some never do recover in a meaningful way. The flies start to
show up, and—for the first time—earnings decline or fail to materialize on schedule. The financial community batters the stock,
which can drop as much as 80 percent over a few months. The
“experts” then decide that management isn’t very good after all—
that management probably has been misleading investors. They
decide the markets have less potential than management had led
them to believe. They decide the technology is weak.
The company is not apt to be as bad as they think. Nor was it
apt to be as good as they had previously thought. The latter is probably less true than the former. The company was probably a very
good company. The problem is simply that expectations, and the
stock price, were just too high early on.
Cycles start with a creative product idea and initial market
research. The firm goes through an engineering cycle where a lot of
money is spent and initial low-yield production begins. This is
followed by initial heavy marketing expense. Up to this point, the
new product—which at best is a project—has done nothing but
drain money.
Initial orders come in early, causing a great deal of optimism.
Initial shipments are apt to be behind schedule in order to assure
quality that will protect the product’s reputation. Finally shipments
of the product begin. Sales start to build. Eventually enough
volume is secured to generate an operating profit. On a graph it
would look about like Illustration 1–1.
Then the product starts to mature. Perhaps new competitors
appear. The market starts to become saturated. Sales flatten out.
(See Illustration 1–2.)
Years later, product sales finally start to decline. (See
Illustration 1–3.) The product has matured. Perhaps it is replaced by
new technology. Margins fade and finally disappear. In time the
product line may be sold off to someone who takes it on at a lower
capital cost. Perhaps it is discontinued altogether. Eventually it is
almost certainly phased out. This is a complete product life cycle.
A graph of the company’s sales of the product throughout the
product life cycle might look like Illustration 1– 4.


CHAPTER 1

Get Rich with the “Glitch”

5

Illustration 1–1

The period from when the product had sustained growth until
the sales have been gradually declining for several years could
be thought of as “the prime years” of a product’s life—when most
of the profit is made. It is comparable to the middle of an adult’s life.
It is when disappointments are least liable to occur. The earlier
years—when a product is viewed as speculative in nature—have
the most excitement, tension, and risk.

Illustration 1–2


6

PART 1

The Anatomy of a Super Stock

Illustration 1–3

The declining years are disconcerting but usually expected.
This is a little like a great athlete in his last years—Muhammed Ali,
Archie Moore, or Joe Lewis in their last few fights: hollow shells of
their former greatness.
Usually, long before its peak, management knows the product
is about to run out of steam. They typically have planned
ahead to identify and develop new products so as to maintain

Illustration 1–4


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